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The Silicon Review Asia

Tessa Therapeutics: Spearheading the fight against cancer

The Silicon Review
November, 2018

thesiliconreview-andrew-khoo-cofounder-tessa-therapeutics-2018Cancer is one of the leading causes of deaths globally. In 2018 alone, it has claimed the lives of over 9.6 million people all over the world. Most of the fatalities happen in developing countries that lack the necessary medical facilities required to treat the numerous forms of cancer. Furthermore, most of them require treatments that are too expensive even for middle-class families to afford. There is no one single cause of cancer identified, nor is there a definitive cure for it.

Those who suffer from a benign form and managed to get it treated in time are the lucky ones, while those that suffer from a malignant form are not so lucky. Several pharmaceutical companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to find a cure, with limited success. One Singaporean company is on a path to develop affordable cancer treatment and give hope to millions of people unfortunate enough to suffer from it.

Tessa Therapeutics is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the development and commercialization of cancer immunotherapies. The company’s goal is to bring hope to cancer patients with no viable treatment options.  It has established its position as a leader in Virus-Specific T cell therapy and is conducting the world’s first FDA Phase III T cell therapy trial in a solid tumor indication.

Tessa’s story started over 20 years ago, when Dr. Malcolm Brenner, the co-founder, and his team at Baylor College of Medicine embarked on a journey to better understand and harness the body’s natural anti-viral immune response. Their research led to the development of Tessa’s platform technology – Virus Specific T cells (VST). Initial VST trials held promising results – including TT10 Phase II trial at National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) which produced the best-published 2-year survival data in patients with advanced NPC. This set the stage for the company’s pivotal Phase III trial, which is the world’s largest T cell therapy trial for any cancer indication with 330 patients across 30 hospitals and 4 labs in 5 countries. Since then, Tessa has expanded its pipeline to target multiple cancer indications, building next-generation technologies on its core VST platform.

Today, Tessa Therapeutics is proud to be spearheading innovation in the field of cancer immunotherapy for solid tumors and is committed to working towards their vision of a world without untreatable cancers. The company wants to develop treatments that mimic the core aspects of the body’s anti-viral immune response. The body’s natural anti-viral immune response is characterized by precision, potency, and persistence. These are the qualities sought in the cure for cancer.

Unique Platform

VSTs are a type of T cell produced specifically in response to a viral infection. These cells have the ability to recognize and kill infected cells while activating other parts of the immune system for a coordinated response. VSTs persist in the body and activate a rapid immune response if the virus is encountered again. VSTs can recognize viral antigens located on the surface of the tumor. After infusion, the VSTs migrate to the tumor site and bind to the viral antigens. The act of binding causes the release of cytotoxic granules from the VSTs that destroy the cancer cells. Tessa Therapeutics’ VST platform has shown clinical safety and efficacy in treating solid tumors. VSTs can overcome key limitations faced by other T cell therapies due to the following intrinsic properties.

Some of the features of the VST platform:

  • Broad Antigen Specificity - Polyclonal population of VSTs recognize multiple viral antigens
  • Proven Solid Tumor Penetration - Complete and partial responses observed in patients with advanced nasopharyngeal carcinoma
  • Long-Term Persistence - Long-term persistence over 10 years demonstrated by gene-marked VSTs
  • Minimal Toxicity - No Grade 3 and Grade 4 Toxicities observed

Tessa’s VST platform technology can be used with a wide range of next-generation therapies. The company is pursuing a number of trials using complementary technologies that hold the promise of significantly enhancing both the reach and the potency of its therapies.

CAR VSTs combine the safety, durability, and persistence of VSTs with antigen specificity of a CAR. Tessa has a range of other CAR targets in various stages of pre-clinical development. Oncolytic viruses selectively replicate & destroy cancer cells. Combining VSTs with oncolytic viruses boosts the innate & adaptive immune response against the tumor. We are now preparing for a Phase I clinical trial which combines oncolytic viruses and VSTs to treat squamous cell head and neck cancers.

Meet the visionary behind Tessa Therapeutics

Andrew Khoo co-founded Tessa, along with Dr. Malcolm Brenner and Mr. Francis Chua, and has been the CEO of Tessa since. An active investor in healthcare and technology-focused start-ups; Mr. Khoo is also a Director of other leading biotechnology companies such as Vyriad and Enleofen Bio. Prior to founding Tessa, Mr. Khoo worked in various roles at global banks including JP Morgan and Citigroup. He began his career at the Singapore Economic Development Board. Mr. Khoo holds a B.S. in Chemistry from Stanford University.

“Our patients are at the heart of what we do. We care deeply about the impact that our work has on others.”

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